Lift off

Most of the visiting anglers I meet on the western lakes are accomplished fly fishers with a vast array of tackle and tactics at their fingertips. Until quite recently they were much more adaptable than the locals who often stuck rigidly to short line wet fly. Switching to lures on HD lines, fishing tiny dries or nymphing in flat calm all came as second nature to those who came here from the English reservoir scene for example. But primarily the bulk of those visitors came to Ireland to fish wet fly from a drifting boat. I want to look at a small, but often crucial part of that technique, lifting the line out of the water at the end of the retrieve.

What is, on the face of it, a simple part of the cast and retrieve cycle is actually a critical factor in the success of the angler. Please note I am talking about top of the water drifting for wild browns, I will leave the huge subject of sinking lines/rainbows to other more qualified anglers. So what should you be aiming to do at the end of your retrieve?

Afloat in a light ripple on Conn

This can be summed up as don’t lift the rod too far and maintain control of the fly line. That is a lot easier said than done! It’s not too bad on a calm day but it becomes much more difficult in a three foot wave and gusty force 5. It requires concentration and good reflexes.

The starting point for lifting off is the decision that the right length of fly line is outside the tip ring to load the rod. A very common fault is drawing too much line in, then not being able to cast as the rod is not under sufficient load. What follows is furious false casting to get the flies back out and is poor form. Feel for the right moment to begin the lift or even count the number of times you draw in the fly line during the retrieve but you need to get this right.

Rod position when starting the lift is critical and is at the heart of effective lough style. As I retrieve I’m gradually lowering the tip of my rod until by the time I begin the lift off the rod tip is close to the surface of the water. This allows a wide arc for the rod to lift through, speeding up the flies as the rod loads. Any fish following sees their quarry getting away and make their move, so you are performing two duties simultaneously, loading the rod and tempting the fish. The back cast, as we all know, should not drift past the 1 o’clock position before the pause and forward stroke.

I mentioned that speeding up the flies will bring offers from the fish. Let’s consider that happy occurrence further. Generally, the fish attacks a fly, turns and swims down. A proportion will self-hook but many more require some action from the angler. A strike to set the hook no less. If you have been diligently following my advice up until now you should have rod starting low and moving under control to the 12/1pm position. As you see or feel a take, any sharp lift of the rod will have a good chance of success. If on the other hand you started the lift too late, the line is too short or the sweep backwards is wishy-washy meaning there is likely to be poor contact made.

As I said at the beginning, controlling the lift off is one of your major tactics on the big loughs. I mentioned the speeding up of the flies as a natural function of the lead up to casting, but you can exaggerate the acceleration by speeding up the retrieve. Some days this can be very effective. Speed is best controlled by the hand drawing in the fly line but if you are fishing a very short line then just lifting the rod is a better option. I have fished with real experts who could whip fish after fish just by flicking three drab wet flies 20 feet in front of the boat. Zen level lough style!

So where does dibbling come in to all this? Imagine your bob fly has broken through the surface and you want to skate it along the top. You have to keep thinking about rod position just as much. Do not have the rod too high when dibbling or striking becomes ineffective. If it is too near to vertical the natural reaction is to raise your arm to compensate for the lack of leverage. While this is OK, it is nowhere near as good as the quick upwards flick of the wrist required to set the hook if the rod is lower in the first place.

There are always going to be those takes which happen exactly as you lift off and there is nothing you can do about that. It is just part of the fun of lough style so don’t think you have done something wrong.

Thinking about tackle for lough style I, like most other Irish anglers, prefer a long rod. Ten and a half feet is better than ten, but eleven is better again. Increased length gives you better control of the bob fly and makes all of the above much easier. While fast sinking lines have their place, for lough style a floater of slow sinker is best. Hauling a fast sinker up to the top then hanging the team of flies works here too but that is a very different game to the top of the water stuff I am talking about here.

Claret Muddler

2 thoughts on “Lift off

  1. Very interesting and helpful, thank you. I miss a fair few fish I think as if a fish is following or that probability is high I tend to slow down the lifting action in the hope it provides a longer window for the fish to take. It rarely seems to and a hook up is often more likely when not aware of a fish following the fly and lifting is more routine. The tactic of a short cast after a follow is of course a good way of getting another chance at the fish.


    1. Not an exact science, but in general slowing down is less effective. That sense of prey getting away seems to be a trigger for the fish but of course we will never really know.


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